Are interpreters real people?

While researching literature on Interpreting Didactics, I read Eva Paneth’s Master’s thesis from 1956, the very first academic paper on Interpreting and Interpreter Training.

I love stumbling upon quotes that make me think or that bring up a point I have never considered before. Eva Paneth’s “investigation into conference interpreting” did not disappoint in this respect.

In the section that caught my eye she revisits the discussion about whether interpreting and translation skills should be a part of undergraduate studies; a question still pertinent for today’s curricular design.

This problem is linked to the question of whether “very young people” should jump headfirst into an interpreting program without having acquired another field-specific education, e.g. as lawyers, doctors or journalists.

Paneth summarizes the dilemma as follows:

“The danger for very young people [is that they] will remain mouthpieces from whom pours vocabulary; and secondly that being mouthpieces so young and so continuously they will not have the chance to develop into real people. “(Paneth, 1957: 137)

“Wait, could that be the problem with me?!” – was my immediate reaction.

Did I just encounter a convenient explanation for any interpreting student’s quarter-life-crisis?

Ultimately, I concluded that Paneth’s notion derived from entirely different premises. In the 1950-s, the professionalization of the interpreter’s profession was still under way.

Nowadays, an interpreting student, no matter how young, having paid attention during theoretical lectures on interpreting studies and communicational theory MUST develop a healthier and more concrete sense of self.

I should hope that interpreting students would identify not only as (future) experts on their working languages, but also on culture, inter-and transcultural communication, mediation and, most importantly, on the complex and demanding interpreting techniques.

In my opinion, it would be nothing but ridiculous and short-sighted to consider a “very young” interpreter exhibiting all these skills merely a “mouthpiece”.

Of course, whether the academic path chosen at a young age corresponds best to one’s talents and visions is another question; but assuming it was an appropriate choice, young interpreters in today’s world surely do not only have the chance to develop into real people, but into nothing short of a multi-faceted superheroes! 😉

Are you listening correctly?

“There are many ways of listening to a speech. We may listen to a voice, to its music, its color, consider its beauty or harshness, or else we may single out an accent and try to guess at the origin or cultural background of a speaker”

For interpreting, the type of listening we employ has to be an entirely different one, since it is crucial to extract meaning from the uttered words.

While it sounds perfectly logical, this passage in Danica Seleskovitch’s “Teaching Conference Interpreting”* oddly resonated with me – maybe because it explains a problem I have encountered various times without being able to pinpoint it!

Language-enthusiastic interpreting students might focus too much on HOW something is being said, instead of paying attention to WHAT is being said:

“Students of interpretation have often been trained previously in translating languages; they frequently have a way of listening that is therefore difficult to get rid of: they listen to language, to words, instead of trying to understand what a speaker has in mind when uttering a word sequence.”

Having read this sentence, I wanted to burst into affirmations!

How often have I admired the steady rumble of a broad American accent, traced the delicate, metaphoric loops produced by an Italian native speaker, or listened to Russian proverbs being artistically incorporated into an otherwise mundane discourse: all without paying too much attention to what was being said.

Ideally, the interpreter would wait, pen poised, for the first meaningful unit to be uttered like a predator lurking for prey!


*Seleskovich Danica (1999) The Teaching of Conference Interpretation in the Course of the Last 50 Years. Interpreting 4 (1), 55-66.


What is "active reading"?

Active reading takes an important place in language learning and in maintaining your language skills, as this strategy helps us read more effectively!

We do not only skim through a text, instead we actively integrate new espressions into our vocabulary and try to understand the text completely, so that we will be able to memorize its content.

The more we practice active reading, the better! But what does it include at all? I came up with the following four steps and  used this Russian text for this specific exercise.

1. Read a text passage and underline all the new words and expressions you’d like to memorize. 2. Make a list of your new words and find definitions for them. 3. Re-read the text, highlighting the key phrases.  4. Note down the key words and concepts that would help you summarize each paragraph orally.